What you will learn

Academic assignments are built on scholarly evidence, so finding appropriate information is a key skill you will need to develop at university. After completing this module, you should be confident in your ability to:

  • Understand the different sources of information typically used in assignments
  • Recognise the different search tools available and which to use to locate specific types of information
  • Identify key concepts from an assignment question and build an effective search strategy

What am I looking for?

Once you are clear about your assignment brief, look for specific instructions in your assignment telling you what sources are appropriate. These specifications will dictate what, where and how you will look for the resources you require. Below are some resource types commonly used in assignments.

Journal articles

Journal articles explore very specific topics, usually through research.

They’re considered academic or scholarly sources as they are written by academics, researchers, and other experts in a particular field of study. In addition, many undergo a peer review process where the quality is checked, prior to publication. The author’s credentials are provided, allowing you to form judgements about their expertise and authority to be writing about the topic. References in the article provide supporting evidence, enabling readers to link through to related research.

Why use journal articles?

Journal articles are useful because they can provide:

  • Definitions (the author will often define key concepts discussed in the article)
  • Statistics
  • Information about a specific topic and related research
  • Recent research.

Journal articles are usually presented in a particular format including an abstract (a short summary of the article’s content) and a reference list. An example of a journal article is presented below:

Books and book chapters

Books are a great source for an overview of a particular topic. As they tend to be longer, books go into greater detail than other resource types and will often introduce and explain established theories, providing notable examples of research conducted in a particular field.

Why use books?

Books can provide:

  • Definitions of relevant concepts
  • Broad overview of a particular field
  • Details of key research.

See Specific resources: ebooks for tips on finding and accessing ebooks.


A report is a specific format for communicating information, usually covering the who, what, where and why of a particular issue. They are typically produced by government departments, research groups, not-for-profit organisations, companies, and others, and will communicate the context behind decision making.

You will need to exercise some caution when using certain types of reports as they may have been produced for marketing purposes and could be biased.

Why use reports?

They can provide:

  • Highly detailed descriptions of a particular issue
  • Information you will not find elsewhere, especially about companies
  • Statistics (particularly in reports produced by Government departments).

See Specific resources: Reports for tips on finding reports.

Newspaper articles

News and other media sources provide up-to-date reporting on events as they are occurring, providing in-the-moment, first-hand accounts of a topic. These sources report on a topic, rather than research it, so events can be documented in days, whereas journal articles and books (which communicate research) may take months or years to move through the publication process. The rapid-nature of reporting may translate to bias and error, so ensure you evaluate newspaper articles carefully.

Why use newspaper articles?

Media sources are great for images, quotations, opinions, and other primary source materials. They usually:

  • Present issues in the context of when they occurred. The way issues are discussed is likely to closely align with the feelings and opinions of the general population at a particular time
  • Seek comment or opinions from representatives of both sides of an argument, providing multiple points of view about an issue
  • Present statistics as they are released, including data related to jobs, economic outlook, health, companies and industries
  • Reflect matters that are of interest to the population they serve, whether that be the general public or a more specific audience.

See Specific resources: Newspapers and other media sources for tips on finding news and other media sources.

For other resource types, including legal material, health and medical resources, Indigenous Australian information and more, check out the Specific resources page of this guide.

Search tools

Journal articles, books, and other academic materials are generally not available for free to the wider public. You will need to use the Library catalogue or an appropriate database to access them.

The Curtin Library Catalogue is a search engine that you can use to search the Library’s collection. It includes records for print material, as well as links to online books (ebooks), journal articles, newspaper articles, videos and much more. The Library Catalogue is a good place to start searching on your topic as you can search content from multiple databases at the same time. It’s the best place to search if you know the details of the item you are looking for (like your textbook!).

Looking for your textbook? Watch Searching the Library catalogue for your textbook to find out how.

Databases are large, searchable collections of online content. They can cover a range of subjects (multidisciplinary) or they can concentrate on a specific area (subject specific). Databases are a great place to find scholarly journal articles and other content for your assignment. They offer more sophisticated search features than the Library Catalogue, which can make it easier to focus your search and find relevant material. In some subject areas, such as law, specialist databases also contain material which is not included in the Library Catalogue.

Google and other search engines are great for doing background research, helping you find out more about your topic and (if necessary) identify keywords for your search. While you won’t be able to access (and sometimes even find) the journal articles, ebooks or other academic sources in a Google search, it is the best place to search for reports, and other publicly available materials.

More information about searching with these tools, including video demonstrations, is provided on the Search tools page of this module.

Now that you have an overview of what you’re looking for and where to search, go to the next page to find out how to identify your keywords and develop a search strategy.